Posts Tagged ‘stigmatization’

250 NGOs address letter to Hungarian parliament regarding restriction on the work of human rights defenders

February 20, 2018

Bulgaria: 200 European Human Rights Organizations Protest in Hungary

More than 250 (!) human rights organizations protested today against the new laws proposed by the Hungarian Parliament aimed at limiting the work of NGOs helping refugees in the country. “We express our solidarity with civil society and all human rights defenders in Hungary – the brave people who are fighting for a more honest society,” reads part of the open letter  published by Amnesty International [the list can be consulted via the link below]. Today, parliament is going to discuss legislative changes that will impose new restrictions on non-governmental organizations in the country. It is expected that many of them will even be banned. According to the bills published last week on Parliament’s website, these organizations will be required to pay a 25% tax on all their foreign funding, and their workers will be banned from accessing refugee centers near the country’s borders.

The affected NGOs will also have to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which in turn will have the right to impose fines or deny them the right to work legally in Hungary. But to approve the changes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government needs a two-thirds majority, which is not currently in parliament.

On 15 February 2018 the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe had already addressed the issue in a tough statement :

I am seriously concerned at the legislative package recently announced by the Hungarian government under the name “Stop Soros”. If adopted by Parliament, it will introduce further arbitrary restrictions to the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and defenders in Hungary. In a letter I sent to the Hungarian Parliament in May 2017, I set out my concerns regarding the then draft law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad, which stigmatised a large number of organisations pursuing lawful activities in the field of human rights and introduced far-reaching restrictions on freedom of association in contravention of international human rights standards. I regret that instead of addressing those pressing human rights concerns, the Hungarian government appears now intent on intensifying stigmatisation and restrictions against NGOs working specifically on migration-related issues.

While I have not yet seen the final text of the proposed legislative package – changes to an earlier version I had examined were announced only the day before yesterday to make it “significantly stricter” – I am alarmed that it will aggravate the situation of freedom of association in Hungary even further. I understand that the changes made this week introduce mandatory licences for NGOs with a goal “to ensure that it is only possible to organise, support or finance migration in Hungary while in possession of a licence, which would be issued by the Minister of Interior following an assessment of the related national security aspects”. NGOs failing to abide by this requirement could be subject to sanctions, including a fine and ultimately dissolution. In addition, any such NGO that receives any amount of funding from abroad would be required to pay a 25% tax on such foreign funding.

The package also foresees the creation of “immigration restraining orders” that can be used to prevent any person deemed to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national” from accessing an 8-km zone from external borders – or even the entire Hungarian territory for non-nationals. Considering the context in which the proposed measures were conceived, there is an obvious risk that arbitrary restrictions may be applied on the freedom of movement of persons involved in refugee assistance at the border.

These proposed measures raise particular concerns because of the likelihood that they will be applied to organisations and individuals who carry out activities in the field of protecting the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees that should be fully legitimate in a democratic society. Unfortunately recent public declarations of the Hungarian government referring to organisations which may come under the effect of the package only reinforce these concerns. In particular, the proposed package (which the government itself has named “Stop Soros”) follows a series of legal measures and stigmatising government rhetoric targeting entities funded or otherwise linked to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, which carry out professional and important work in Hungary, including in the field of human rights.

Finally, I am alarmed at the escalating rhetoric used by the Hungarian government to portray NGOs and immigrants as a threat to national security. This discourse is stirring up among the population fears and intolerance towards foreigners and mistrust towards civil society organisations.

The proposed package of laws introduces administrative and financial burdens that constitute restrictions on freedom of association which cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society and are therefore at variance with international human rights standards. The package as a whole is stigmatising and is bound to have a chilling effect on NGOs but also their donors and individuals who work for or with them. I call once more on Hungary to refrain from penalising, stigmatising or putting at any disadvantage whatsoever NGOs, including those working in the field of migration, and to restore an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.

The next day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the law an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association. It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing…

See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/02/in-solidarity-with-civil-society-in-hungary/

http://www.novinite.com/articles/188074/200+European+Human+Rights+Organizations+Protest+in+Hungary

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-proposed-additional-restrictions-to-the-work-of-ngos-in-hungary

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law-un/hungary-anti-immigration-bill-an-assault-on-human-rights-u-n-idUSKCN1G0102

 

Malaysian Home Minister: Human rights defenders are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”

August 21, 2017

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has criticised human rights defenders today, accusing them of defending criminals instead. While launching his book on the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) 1959 today, the deputy prime minister reportedly alleged critics of the law often masquerade as human rights defenders. “They defend crime syndicates. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” he was quoted saying by news portal Malaysiakini. “They claim to defend human rights, but in court, they defend criminals accused by the authorities.”
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has put forth a definition of human rights defenders, two days after the deputy prime minister called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing who protect criminals”. Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail said such individuals were people who work towards the realisation of rights and freedoms contained in the Federal Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments through non-violent means. “The efforts of human rights defenders contribute to positive societal change and play an important role in the establishment of the rule of law. “They certainly cannot be said to be defending crime syndicates and criminals,” he said in a statement today.

Source: Home Minister: Human rights defenders siding with criminals in court | Malaysia | Malay Mail Online

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/home-minister-human-rights-activists-defend-criminals#uREoQ0H4g4AhbZYU.99

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/08/17/suhakam-human-rights-defenders-do-not-protect-criminals/

EU Mechanism held first meeting: Human Rights Defenders are not criminals

December 2, 2016

On 29 November 2016  ‘ProtectDefenders.eu’ – the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by International Civil Society – concluded its first annual meeting of beneficiaries: human rights defenders at risk from all regions of the world who have benefited from the project gathered today in Brussels. The meeting aimed at reflecting on this first year of coordinated work to support defenders worldwide and at highlighting the worrying global phenomenon of criminalisation of human rights defenders.[see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/international-cooperative-consortium-protect-the-defenders-launched-on-2-december/]

To conclude the meeting, the twelve partner organisations of ProtectDefenders.eu have issued a public statement urging all national authorities to “publicly recognise the crucial role played by human rights defenders and protect them in all circumstances from any form of judicial harassment“. As stressed by Antoine Madelin, FIDH Director for International Advocacy and Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, “Human Rights Defenders are the pillars of democracy and of the rule of law but are too often subjected to unfair criminal prosecution, in an effort to undermine their work in the defence of human rights.”

Since the launch of the project in October 2015, ProtectDefenders.eu has witnessed an increased criminalisation of defenders worldwide in reprisal to the conduct of legitimate human rights activities.

ProtectDefenders.eu held its meeting in Brussels under the motto “Defenders are not criminals” and brought together dozens of human rights defenders at risk supported by the EU mechanism during its first year of implementation, together with prominent representatives of NGOs, European institutions and Representatives of International and Regional Protection Mechanisms, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. Participating defenders, coming from more than 20 countries such as Burundi, Honduras, Egypt, Bangladesh or the Russian Federation, shared their experiences of resilience in often dangerous and challenging situations and debated on the most effective strategies to counter criminalisation and pursue their work.

This meeting has also emphasised the main achievements and highlights of the first year of ProtectDefenders.eu. In the first twelve months, the EU Mechanism has provided more than 330 emergency grants to defenders at high risk, facilitating a rapid response to their legal, medical, security or emergency relocation needs in pressing circumstances. At the same time, ProtectDefenders.eu has successfully started and run a temporary relocation programme, disbursing more than 700,000 € in support of 74 temporary relocations in favour of 150 individuals, with the collaboration of host institutions worldwide and in the framework of the EU Temporary Relocation Platform.

The Project has also provided institutional and operational support to grassroots organisations, allocating more than 300,000 € through 32 grants. 1,300 defenders worldwide were trained to improve their security and protection in difficult contexts.

Finally, ProtectDefenders.eu has expanded its advocacy and outreach dimension, by conducting fact-finding missions and monitoring trials against defenders particularly in difficult countries, as well as carrying out initiatives to assist and connect isolated and vulnerable defenders throughout the world. ProtectDefenders.eu has coordinated more than 430 urgent alerts aimed at mobilizing the attention of concerned authorities, public and media on behalf of defenders at risk.

Human Rights defenders who attended the meeting positively assessed the first year of implementation of ProtectDefenders.eu. The twelve partners praised the EU strong support through the EIDHR of a project as ambitious and comprehensive as ProtectDefenders.eu. As pointed out by Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders and member of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, in the closing speech, “human rights defenders in danger around the world do benefit from this  strong coordination between international civil society organizations and the institutions of the European Union.”

[ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, delivers emergency help and temporary relocation grants for activists at risk, who face threats due to their work and are in need of urgent support. It also provides training and capacity-building for human rights organisations. ProtectDefenders carries out monitoring, advocacy and lobbying to raise awareness about the situation of human rights defenders and their need for protection]

Source: Newsfeed – ProtectDefenders.eu

Uyghur human rights defender Dolksun Isa takes visa rejection by India in stride

May 13, 2016

Uyghur human rights defender and democracy activist Dolksun Isa is disappointed with India’s cancellation of his visa after issuing it. In an interview to Tehelka Correspondent Riyaz Wani on 12 May 2016, Isa says he is a strictly non-violent campaigner for Uyghur rights and China‘s attempt to label him a terrorist is to delegitimize the human rights work that he does to support the Uyghur community. Very much in one with the work of MEA 2016 nominee Ilham Tohti [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/breaking-news-final-nominees-2016-martin-ennals-award-tohti-zone-9-bloggers-razan-zaitouneh-annoucement/] Read the rest of this entry »

Statement on Human Rights Defenders that the Observatory would have delivered orally to the UN (if time had allowed)

March 4, 2016

Severe time restraints made that several NGOs could not make their oral statement on 4 March 2016 during the Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the UN Human Rights Council [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/preview-of-the-upcoming-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/].

Here follows the text of the statement that the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would have delivered:

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UN Rapporteur calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders

February 16, 2016

Human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/ and politicized environment,” said Michel Forst, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, at the end of his first visit to the country, according to the press release of the UN. Forst also criticized attempts to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure, the press release added.

In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatization in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” the special rapporteur noted.

The drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights,” the press release cited him as saying in connection with Hungary.

During his nine-day visit, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, the expert met with state officials, members of the judiciary, the parliament, ombudsman as well as human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic community. Forst heard specific testimonies that defenders who criticize the Government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as ‘political’ or ‘foreign agents’, according to the press release.

See also https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/

Source: UN calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders | The Budapest Business Journal on the web | bbj.hu

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

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Attila Mraz: Human rights defenders in Hungary have their work cut out

December 23, 2015

Attila Mraz works for the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) on political participatory rights, while also completing a PhD in political theory focusing on the required conditions for a State to be qualified ‘democratic’. Talking with the International Service for Human Rights in the series Defenders Profiles (25 September 2015) about the reasons for his commitment to political participatory rights he said: ‘Democratic rights fascinate me because they are such an important feature of human life – we have to live together and solve certain problems despite having diverse perspectives. Political participatory rights provide necessary guarantees for equal and fair participation which facilitates the resolution of different societal views – that is what I care about.’

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Defender Profile of Will McCallum, Greenpeace UK

November 16, 2015

On 28 October 2015, the Monitor of the International Service for Human Rights carried an interview with human rights defender Will McCallum who is a ‘Campaigner’ at Greenpeace in the United Kingdom.

I would say that it is the tactics we use are what provoke a backlash from the Government as much as the issues we work on. In the UK if you make full use of the freedom of information system or judicial reviews, then you are probably going to have speak out publicly about the failures of government policies. This is what puts you in the firing line’.

And as Greenpeace and other environmental groups have highlighted the risks to environmental rights implied by UK energy and climate policies, they have found themselves targets of derogatory statements from both authorities and the media, questioning the motives of their work. The previous Environment Secretary labelled them ‘self-serving’,highly paid globe-trotters’ ‘focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely’.

Yet Will says that this is actually emblematic of a broader governmental intolerance of civil society advocacy. ‘There is a general background noise from the government which is anti-NGO; there’s a sense of disrespect and there’s been a marked difference since 2012. It’s as if the government see questioning by civil society as a pain which ought to be kept in check. But dissent has its rightful place in a democracy and, in fact, we can help ensure the government makes policies which respect rights and protect the environment. There is a sense that in the UK the government would like to see the role of NGOs as one of simply service providers’.

This attitude has manifested itself not only in the governmental discourse, but also in legislation limiting NGO activities. Will points to the 2014 Lobbying Act, which put strong financial and administrative limitations on the advocacy work NGOs could do around election periods. A recent letter by 150 NGOs called for the law’s repeal, following a recent independent inquiry into its impact.‘At least as concerning for us, however, is the current review of the Freedom of Information Act. Over 140 organisations spoke out last month in concern at apparent attempts to weaken the Act. The government has mandated a Commission to carry out the review, but almost all of its members are politicians and all have a track record of questioning the Act. Where’s the balance? Where’s the view of those of us who rely upon the Act to hold the government accountable?’

Will is concerned at suggestions that the Commission will recommend the implementation of fees for tribunal appeals against freedom of information decisions, currently free. ‘At Greenpeace we have a certain amount of resources we could invest in such appeals. But what’s the impact for smaller organisations and grass-roots human rights defenders? They rely on this Act to demand better from the State’. A lack of transparency and of proper consultation are two obstacles which make it difficult for organisations and communities to question the environmental impact of business projects, says Will. ‘On the one hand, there is a failure by the government to be transparent regarding who they are being lobbied by and how; there is no effective lobbying register. Yet on the other hand there is a reluctance on the part of the State to listen to those communities and activists who are asking for an environmental perspective to be taken into account. The government wants to expedite business projects at all costs, as shown by a recent change to planning guidance which will allow central government to circumvent local authorities in the approval of fracking projects if the latter has taken more than 16 weeks to evaluate a project proposal’.

In an echo of a disturbing global trend, another fear amongst environmental rights organisations in the UK, is the possible use of counter-terror and surveillance legislation to limit their activism… ‘The government has said that the Extremism Bill is to tackle what falls below the legal threshold for terrorist proscription. There needs to be a clear articulation of what this means to ensure the law cannot be abused. Meanwhile, the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill provides for 90-day pre-trail detention. Any law which gives authorities who are relatively intolerant to dissent the power to lock people up before they’ve been judged must be subject to proper consultation of local civil society and international human rights experts before it is passed’. It will also fall upon this government to make guarantees of no-repetition in the cases of police spying and surveillance of environmental groups which have led to a public inquiry into undercover policing…

Source: Defender Profile: Will McCallum, United Kingdom | ISHR

No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and HRDs

November 11, 2015

On 19 October Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, wrote a piece for the Monitor of the ISHR under the title “No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders”Read the rest of this entry »